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Public Statements

Guantanamo Bay

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, early yesterday, the administration announced what can only be viewed as the latest in a string of seriously misguided decisions related to the closing of the secure facility at Guantanamo Bay. It plans to move dozens of terrorist detainees from Guantanamo Bay Cuba to a prison in northern Illinois.

The explanation we used to get for moving detainees onto American soil was that Guantanamo's existence is a potent recruiting tool for terrorists. But even if you grant that, it is hard to see how simply changing Guantanamo's mailing address would eliminate the problem. Does anyone believe Al-Jazeera will ignore the fact that enemy combatants are being held on American soil? It is naive to think our European critics, the American left, or al-Qaida will be pacified by creating an internment camp in northern Illinois, a sort of ``Gitmo North'' instead of ``Gitmo South.''

As I said, this is just the latest in a series of misguided decisions. First, there was the decision to close Guantanamo by an arbitrary date without a plan for doing so. Americans expect their Government to protect them. That is why Americans overwhelmingly rejected the idea of closing Guantanamo.

Then there was the decision to bring the self-avowed mastermind of the 9/11 attack, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and his fellow 9/11 plotters into New York City for trial. We learned just this week, the administration plans to give other terrorists the benefits of a civilian trial in the United States.

Now there is this: According to the reports we have seen, the administration intends to bring as many as 100--100--foreign terrorist fighters from Guantanamo Bay to America, a plan that would make our Nation less safe, not more so. What is worse, the defenders of the proposal don't even seem to get the implications.

Rather than even attempt to reassure people about safety, politicians in Illinois are trumpeting this decision--get this now--as a jobs program, a jobs program. That is how out of touch they are. Democratic politicians are so eager to spin the failure of the $1 trillion stimulus, they are now talking about national security in the language of saved and created jobs.

The advocates of closing Guantanamo without a plan can't seem to make up their minds as to why it is a good idea. First, we were told we had to bring them here because Guantanamo is a dangerous symbol--the whole symbolism over safety argument. Now, with unemployment in double digits, it is being sold--incredibly--as a jobs project, some kind of shovel-ready plan.

But leaving aside the absurdity of marketing this as a jobs program, let's get to the core issue. The core issue is this: Moving some of the worst terrorists on Earth to U.S. soil on its face is more dangerous than leaving them where they are. Nobody could argue with that. Make no mistake, this decision, if implemented, will increase the threat to security at home. Let's count the ways in which it increases the threats of security in the United States.

There will now be another terrorist target in the heartland of America--an obvious one at that, right near the Mississippi River.

The FBI Director has already stated his concerns about the radicalization of other prisoners that could happen by moving terrorists here.

There is also the danger of detainees communicating with terrorists on the outside, as has happened in the past--a danger that would undoubtedly increase with the additional legal rights detainees will enjoy once they are moved into the United States.

Then there is the danger that the detainees could sue their way to freedom--yes, that the detainees could sue their way to freedom. Before the first detainee has even set foot in the United States, their lawyers stand ready to challenge in court the administration's decision to incarcerate detainees indefinitely in the United States. By purposefully moving detainees here, the administration is making it easier for detainees and their lawyers to succeed in doing so.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that foreign nationals have more rights if they are present on U.S. soil than if they are not. We have already seen the application of this principle. We have seen a Federal judge order detainees released into the United States--only to be reversed because the detainees at the time didn't enjoy the advantage of being present in the United States--an advantage the Obama administration intends to confer on them.

Then there is the case of the so-called shoe bomber, Richard Reid, who narrowly failed in his effort to blow up a passenger jet in midair. Americans might recall that Reid ended up in a supermax facility in Colorado. They might not recall what happened next. Not satisfied with his conditions of confinement, Reid sued the government. He said he wanted to be placed in less restrictive conditions where he could watch TV, order periodicals through the mail, and learn Arabic. He got his wish. The Obama administration acceded to Reid's demands. He has been placed in the general prison population, a less restrictive environment where he can speak to the media and where his visitors and mail will no longer be regularly monitored by the FBI. Is this how we should treat people who attempt to blow up commercial airliners? We will no longer have the FBI routinely monitor their mail? This is an outrage, an absolute outrage. Unfortunately, it is not an isolated case.

Just a few years ago, this same supermax allowed terrorist inmates to communicate with terrorist networks abroad. At the time, our Democratic colleagues criticized these security lapses harshly. The senior Senator from New York said Federal prison officials were ``incompetent when it comes to detecting possible terrorist activity in Federal prisons.'' He noted ``past evidence of terrorists communicating with live terror cells from inside prison walls.'' That was the senior Senator from New York.

Our Democratic colleagues now raise concerns about similar potential lapses at the proposed ``Gitmo North.''

This decision is ill-advised on multiple levels. It is also prohibited by law. Fortunately, if and when the Obama administration submits its plan for closing Guantanamo, Congress will have an opportunity to revisit the prohibition in current law that bars the transfer into the United States of Guantanamo detainees for the purposes of indefinite detention. That is against the law. At that point, we will decide whether this prohibition ought to be removed and whether millions of dollars ought to be appropriated to make this ill-advised decision a reality.

In short, Congress will have a chance to vote on whether we should treat the national security needs of the country as just another local jobs project. I suspect the American people will be no more supportive of this idea than they were of the administration's plan to close Guantanamo by an arbitrary date. Security can't take a backseat to symbolism, and it certainly should not take a backseat to some parochial jobs program.

I yield the floor.

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